Even in the fad-friendly world of the internet, podcasting has become something of a phenomenon of late. In fact, new research from the UK Association of Online Publishers (AOP) found that more than half of the publishing firms interviewed said that they intended to launch their own podcasts over the next 12 months and 35 per cent were already producing such content. But is podcasting simply the latest craze being toyed with by creative media types or is there more commercial substance behind it? Opinion is divided.
Podcasting’s appeal is simple enough to understand. After all, it’s a relatively inexpensive way of raising your brand profile, pretty much anyone with a digital voice recorder (the kind found on most mobile phones), a PC and internet access can put together their own cast if they know how. As for the more tangible benefits, IBM, for instance, recently declared that it was using podcasts to dramatically slash its weekly conference call budget. Rather than dialling in at a set time every week, members of staff simply download a weekly update to catch up on the latest corporate developments and listen at their leisure.
Listeners have limits
But there are problems. First and foremost, if you look at the popular podcasts on the web you’ll notice a common theme. The download chart produced by iTunes is resplendent with famous (and sometimes rather quirky) names. While the likes of comedian Ricky Gervais, Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles and the intriguingly titled French Maid TV can attract in excess of 200,000 listeners a week, it’s a little harder to attract interest if you’re talking about your business. This is because you need something to say. Using podcasting on your website to, for example, introduce a new product or service has a certain validity, but clips must be brief and focused. Feature a ten-minute waffling description and people simply won’t listen.
Geoff Beattie, UK chief executive of PR agency Pleon acknowledges the limitations of the medium and yet, for all that, remains a firm fan. ‘I think there is a good business case for podcasting,’ he explains. ‘As a marketing agency our job is all about creating compelling content that people will actually want to listen to, watch or read, so the challenge is to create something that is both editorially interesting and entertaining.’
The implication is that podcasting may in fact be best utilised as a means of building brand awareness by stealth. ‘Consumers are so bored of advertising these days and they can easily avoid it if they so wish, so you have to be creative,’ Beattie continues. ‘The podcasts that are good are really good and, personally, I find myself listening to them far more than music on my way to work in the morning. It’s all about the content. Try and tie what you’re doing in to your product in an entertaining way – that’s the only way people will listen.’
There appears to be validity in the IBM model too, with Beattie, for one, citing internal communication and training as areas in which podcasting can be utilised by growing firms to give themselves an advantage – although if your entire organisation is based in one building it’s likely to prove unnecessary.
To Drew Benvie from fellow PR firm Lewis the key is to think of podcasting ‘as just another marketing tool. There will be certain sectors where it isn’t top of your agenda, manufacturing for instance,’ he continues, ‘but for businesses in the media, fashion, technology and consumer goods markets it definitely has relevance, especially as consumers become more tech-savvy themselves.’
This argument is clearly valid, although it remains to be seen how quickly podcasting will permeate beyond its existing media and technology core.